Saudi businessman sets out agenda for squash’s future and allays fears of leaving the sport in limbo
By ROD GILMOUR – Article first published on the Daily Telegraph website (03/01/14)
In recent years, squash chiefs have been savvy enough to hold the World Series Finals at Queen’s Club in the first week of January, giving the sport maximum exposure in a generally quiet period for sport.
Squash has also built up its end-of-season Finals to such a degree that Sky Sports now broadcast live while the west London club has welcomed the tournament with open arms. From lighting, drama and the top eight in the world, it mirrors, albeit on a smaller scale, tennis’ own version at the O2.
It left the tournament in limbo, though the PSA announced last week that the Finals will now be played in March in Richmond, Virginia to determine the 2013 champion.
Rumours had also circulated that Ziad Al-Turki, the Saudi businessman and men’s tour chairman who has single-handedly transcended the sport to new heights, might also end his association with squash.
“I got an email recently saying if I was still committed,” a defiant Al-Turki said. “The message is that I am, both in time and finance. The nice thing is that I don’t have to commit financially any more. The tour is strong and I promised the PSA that I wouldn’t bankrupt them [by leaving].”
If the IOC hadn’t messed up with what they did with wrestling, then squash would be in the 2020 Games.
Despite losing out to wrestling for inclusion to the 2020 Olympics, squash is still in the running for a place, alongside baseball and softball’s joint bid, after International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach hinted at a change to the programme for Tokyo in seven years’ time.
“Look at the big jump that the sport has showed in the last few years,” said Al-Turki. “This has had nothing to do with the Olympic bid. On the contrary, it made our bid even better.
“Personally, if the IOC hadn’t messed up with what they did with wrestling, then squash would be in the 2020 Games. The IOC will hopefully realise that they did not do what they set out to do [include ‘new’ sports to the Games].”
Al-Turki will now focus on finding a main top-tier sponsor for the world tour – Britain’s Nick Matthew returned to world No.1 on New Year’s Day – over the next few months.
“We’re different from other sports,” claimed Al-Turki. “We want to go to a sponsor and find out what they want to get out of it. Be it hosting events in malls, private clubs or major cities, we can tailor-make it.”
Al-Turki, whose passion for the sport was garnered from an uncle who built an unconventional squash court in his house, first joined the PSA board in 2009 alongside former world champion Peter Nicol.
His family company, ATCO, the industrial conglomerate owned by his father and one of Saudi Arabia’s richest companies, sponsored the World Series Finals the same year. Despite this year’s difficulties, Al-Turki says he will get the event “back on track”.
“It would be nice for the Finals to travel and to be played in countries that don’t have big tournaments and to show off the sport,” he added. “All the matches are amazing and I think we have an event like this, you can really attract attention. Queen’s have been great to us, though there are two other offers to host it.”
Source: Daily Telegraph; Pictures by Michael Catling